Matthew Fanning reveals his background in sales as he begins to tell the story of Presenter’s Podium, the eLearing platform he has developed and is beginning to sell to universities in the region.
The former medical device salesman delivers a compelling pitch for his product, which grew out of his time taking a Bachelor of Commerce at St. Mary’s University’s Sobey School of Business. At the time, he noticed that professors had problems teaching oral communications skills – one of the key talents demanded by employers. With large class sizes, profs can’t listen to presentations from every students, and the students rarely get a chance to practise oral delivery.
So Fanning set out to address the problem with a few people he knew. Moontasir Abed, a current SMU student, helped with the business development. And two Dalhousie University computer science master students, Nilofer Mehta and Anuj Shun, developed the technology.
They created an eLearing platform that lets professors assign subjects that must be researched, and students to practise and record a verbal presentation on a subject. The assignment, practice and submission are all done on a computer, cellphone, or device, using the Presenter’s Podium built-in media server.
Presenter’s Podium is so compelling that Fanning’s alma mater, the Sobey School of Business, has already begun testing the application with its students. Fanning is also in discussions with Mount St. Vincent and Acadia universities and Nova Scotia Community College.
“They understand that the education industry is moving toward a flipped classroom,” said Fanning, leaning slightly forward as the pitch gathered momentum. “They also understand that the No. 1 skill that employers look for in employees is communications skills.”
Presenter’s Podium is a cloud-based platform that allows students to practice and record presentations and be evaluated outside of class time. The professor uploads three topics that are unknown to the students. The students research and prepare online so they can do a presentation on each of the topics. When the students hit ‘present’, they receive one of the three questions, and must deliver the presentation then and there. There is no restarting. Once the presentation is finished, it’s submitted to the professor.
When finished, the students receive feedback not only from the professor but also their classmates, who also have access to the presentation.
“We know that students improve their speaking skills the more they present,” said Ellen Farrell, an entrepreneurship and venture capital professor at the Sobey School and Fanning’s former professor. “I ask my classes to do four presentations throughout the semester. … Presenter’s Podium allows me to assign 10 presentations. We are no longer limited by the amount of class time.”
Fanning has bootstrapped the company so far, selling no equity at all. He is now working on sales rather than fundraising and taking advice from several other startup founders, including fellow SMU alumni Saeed El-Darahali of SimplyCast and Andy Osburn of Equals6. The company’s focus now is to expand in the academic market, but also move into corporate training.